A Crisis of Social Media Crises: Don’t Be Stupid

by Ken Mueller on January 13, 2012 · 43 comments

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im with stupid t shirt p 678 300x279 A Crisis of Social Media Crises: Dont Be StupidPeople are stupid.

The more I see, the more I’m convinced of that statement. Oh, I’m not talking about you, or me. It’s “other people” that are stupid. Right?

It seems that every time I turn around I’m hearing about another Marketing/PR crisis at some business. From Papa John’s and Boners BBQ to AAA to Ocean Marketing. It just feels like we’re seeing more and more of these stories, some of which were handled poorly, and others of which were handled well.

And then there’s this ad from a gym in Dubai, where the idea of losing weight is presented with an image from Auschwitz:

auschwitz gym ad dubai Circuit Factory gym 300x229 A Crisis of Social Media Crises: Dont Be Stupid

 

What were they thinking?

It seems that there is so much of this going on that Gini Dietrich has mused out loud as to whether or not we should continue shining a light on these bad examples. And there’s even been talk of handing out a Moron of the Week/Month/Year award. Lately, she’s done a great job of providing both good and bad case studies, as have some other bloggers.

But are there really more public relations and branding crises happening? And are businesses warranted in being afraid of social media, and therefore avoiding it?

I think there are a few things at work here, and as I’ve studied the situation, I have a few theories, and a few takeaways.

First, for the most part, I don’t think there is actually that much of an increase in these customer service crisis issues. Situations like FedEx and Papa Johns have always happened. The difference is that customers now have the means, or the “megaphone” to spread the word more widely and more rapidly. Previously the Papa Johns situation would have stayed very small and local, and probably would have been resolved locally. It might never have gone beyond the four walls of that particular restaurant, and the corporate higher ups never even would have known it had happened.

Second, the presence of Social Media allows us to be stupid on a global level. If you take a look at the Boners BBQ website, it’s clear that that small business has a culture problem. I would bet that this isn’t the first time they’ve been at the center of controversy. But because the owner of the restaurant had a Facebook business page at his disposal, he had the ability to not just be stupid, but mega-stupid.

While the number of horror stories might not be increasing, we’re just hearing about more of them, and Social Media is facilitating that.

So what does this mean for us as business owners and operators?

Well, it’s a whole new world and if we aren’t paying attention, we’re in trouble.

1. Social Media isn’t going away – Stick your head in the sand all you want, but while you may not be using Social Media, your customers are. And more importantly, they WILL use Social Media to tell others of your failure. As a result, the only way to respond and address the issues is by being there yourself. If a situation blows up on Facebook, it needs to be addressed on Facebook. Sure, much of that might take place offline, but the public needs to see your response. That goes for any platform.

2. A local crisis is no longer local – As I mentioned before, most of these situations would have been handled at the local level pre-Social Media. But even for small local businesses, a tiny customer service problem can turn you into a case study of the worst sort on a global level. Though if you respond properly, you might become one of those good case studies. And if you run a local franchise as part of a national chain, you won’t be able to hide your local problems. Corporate will find out, and they won’t be pleased if they have a brand-wide PR crisis on their hands.

3. Customers don’t compartmentalize – They paint with broad strokes. They throw the baby out with the bath water. Now think about what that means for your business. If the lowest paid guy at the cash register does something stupid, it might not stay as an issue with that employee. It’s not an issue of “this guy at this store ticked me off”. It’s now an issue of “Papa Johns ticked me off”. There’s a big difference. Whether you are some guy making minimum wage at the lowest level of a major corporation or the CEO, the general public does not differentiate, especially when they are on the receiving end. If they’ve been wronged, or even feel they’ve been wronged, they have have been wronged by the entire brand.

As I mentioned in a comment over at Spin Sucks recently:

I think the one lesson we can break down is that when we talk from our end about breaking down the silos, we have to realize that on the consumer side that is happening as well. They don’t see the silos, and they don’t think in terms of PR, communication, sales. For the customer, it always comes down to customer service. And they will demand to be treated well.

And this is why it’s important that from the business side, the silos are torn down and everyone is on board and understands this. Every customer has a megaphone at their disposal and most aren’t afraid to use it.

 And with all of these in mind, how do we respond?

1. Understand the power of Social Media is word of mouth magnified – Have you ever heard someone talk about a small town saying that everyone knows everyone else’s business? Well, that is happening online. Our “local” community is now global. Stories spread quickly.

2. Use the tools to your advantage – It’s true that bad stories will spread fast, but good stories can spread fast as well. The FedEx case is a situation where a company responded to a very bad situation properly, and the power of the web helped curtail the damage.

3. Bring your A-game – Look at your entire business model: if you provide a great product with great service, both online and off, you will minimize the risks. Sure, there’s always the chance for problems, but the fewer mistakes you make, the less chance there is of a customer taking you to task online.

4. Create a positive, service-centered corporate culture – I have no clue what the corporate culture at Papa Johns or FedEx is like, but I’ve looked at the Boners BBQ website and it’s clear they have a culture problem. They were a crisis waiting to happen. My youngest son now works at the new Chick-Fil-A in town. At the young age of 16 he went through a rather intensive training and brought home a number of books and training manuals. As I looked through them, I was greatly impressed at how well they stressed excellence in both their products and customer service. They strive to create a positive corporate culture from the top down. Yes, there are those who fault them for their stances on a number of issues, but they are an incredibly well run company from top to bottom. Does this mean they won’t have issues? No. But it does create an environment that is less prone to error. As Shelly Kramer wrote recently, your employees are your brand.

5. Use your head -Don’t be stupid. Leave that to other people. Think before you speak, especially when using online social channels.

6. Have a social media policy in place -A solid social media policy that is couched in engagement and encouragement provides a great framework for how your employees behave online.

7. Have a crisis plan in place – You can never plan for every sort of crisis. Perhaps you’ll never have to deal with one. But, as the Boy Scouts say: be prepared. Have a plan in place that will help you make wise decisions should a crisis come your way. This should include a chain of command as to who will respond, as well as contingencies for how you will respond, and how quickly. All of these are important.

A crisis does not have to be the end of the world, and it doesn’t have to create a permanent blemish on your record. How well you respond will dictate how the public reacts.

Remember: people may be stupid, but you don’t have to be one of them.

Are you ready for a crisis? Is your corporate culture such that the risk of a crisis is minimal?

 

 

 A Crisis of Social Media Crises: Dont Be Stupid
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31 comments
smcrisisacademy
smcrisisacademy

@TMuellerFFM Thanks for sharing the post with me ;) Have a great week!

CarolynTran29
CarolynTran29

Very insightful post! I agree that consumers do not differentiate or compartmentalize, which makes it essential that a business must use social networking/media as a 'tool' to prevent or resolve such PR blunders. You cannot attempt to 'fix' a situation in an aliened environment, and most importantly, you must not alienated your consumers. Some businesses fail to accept the fact that regardless of whether or not YOU are on twitter (etc.), your consumers are, and your failures will not only be recognized, but highlighted on a global platform. Online, a 'small' blemish has the potential to cause (irreversible) damage to the company. It is the company's responsibility to 'clean up' after themselves and their irresponsible employees. Online, especially in a global market, the fine line between seniority or boundaries no longer exist, which makes it increasingly important for companies to develop social media plans, regulations and integrate it into their business. Social media sites can make or break your business.

Tyler Orchard
Tyler Orchard

Great post, Ken. There is a significant shift that has happened with the rise of Social Media and the digital community. There aren't those distinct boundaries anymore. Customers, the public, media, employees, management and the brand have almost become one. I really appreciate you stating that there aren't more "crises", there are just more ways of them being shared. There is a new outlet for people to share their views, thoughts and perceptions in real time. I think the most important one you mentioned is: using the tools to your advantage. It's the understanding of the community you're operating in. As a company it doesn't matter if you are on Twitter or not, if there is an issue that goes viral via this platform, it will. Maybe it comes down to being more involved in the digital community? Do you think if a company or brand is truly engaged with the community around them (digitally), they are better situated to handle a 2.0 crisis?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

And one more thing to add: With all the changes happening in search right now, if companies aren't using social media, they're going to get lost in the shuffle. To this point, I've been pretty diligent in having clients using social media only if it made sense for their industry (for instance, our oxidizer client shouldn't be using Twitter). But, with changes at Google, we're going to have to look at Google+ and how it affects search and our rankings. It's not a nice to have in 2012. It's a must.

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

It just requires that people use their heads.

Stupid is as stupid does can cause your business/ brand some serious damage on the social web, as clearly demonstrated by the examples you used.

It's totally avoidable and unnecessary!

ErichCampbell
ErichCampbell

Great lessons and a fantastic summary of what's been shooting around the SM sphere lately. Well worth the read!

rdopping
rdopping

These are brilliant lessons for sure. Thanks for offering these and thanks Gisele for the tweet. I wholehearedly agree but I did see something yesterday that bothered me. The new Old Spice Ad. The discouse slamming it for being insensitive was palpable (Mashable via Facebook). I have to ask, in our quest to be a good brand (personal or not) have we lost our sense of humour? I agree there are limits (the fitness ad in you post is just plain inexusable) but c'mon, really? Anyway, great comments. Thanks again.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@CarolynTran29 I just checked out the Boners BBQ Facebook page that Gini and others wrote about. Seems that after the owner's apology he really is not apologetic. He's playing it up and milking the controversy for all he can, and his culture is so entrenched with his customers that many support him

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Tyler Orchard I think the more open the lines of communication, the easier it will be to handle them. I think we're at a point where customers are learning they can make a stink via SM, and perhaps it will become big news (even though most don't). But they feel it's the only way to be heard. I believe that if businesses take this seriously and engage more honestly, the pendulum will swing back a bit. Those companies that don't engage on their own will be caught off guard. I think this is one of the reasons I have problems with outsourcing as well.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@hackmanj So...all I have to do is use the word "stupid" in the title and you'll read it? I like this!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ginidietrich That is definitely the case. Especially as the local and social factors begin to be more important. Those "without" will be left behind.

Still boggles the mind at how many businesses still don't even have a website...

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@Mark_Harai Seriously. There are so many things you can do to prevent this from happening. Nothing is foolproof, but if you're smart, you can minimize the chances and minimize the damage.

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@ErichCampbell Thanks, Erich. It really does seem like we're hearing yet another crisis story just about every day.

Mark_Harai
Mark_Harai

@kmueller62 Most welcome Ken - some tips and lessons on using your head when socializing your business/ brand on the web!

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@rdopping Thanks for the comment. I haven't seen the Old Spice ad yet, but I'll check it out. Clearly we need a sense of humor, and we all have different limits on that. Makes our job as marketers even that more difficult!

CarolynTran29
CarolynTran29

@KenMueller I understand that there is this common misconception shared among (misinformed) business owners, that "any publicity is good publicity"; however, people should be able to use their society's moral values if not their own, to regulate the 'crap' they spew. The fact that he is milking this unfortunate event for more publicity, makes it even more evident that his apology was by no means sincere. I hope his customers are aware that a business' social etiquette also (to an extent) reflects their internal practices. Not so admirable...

KenMueller
KenMueller moderator

@hackmanj@ginidietrich The worst offenders seem to be restaurants. The first place I look for info about a restaurant is online. If they don't even have a website, why should I bother?

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